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Dr Tony steps back from duties to care for wife stricken by cancer

We owe him a debt’, says Taoiseach

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Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is stepping aside from his duties for now to care for his wife Emer who has advanced cancer and is receiving palliative care.

Dr Holohan, who has spearheaded the country's fight against Covid-19, made the announcement last night.

His wife was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in recent years. He is to take time out to look after Emer and their two teenage children. Dr Holohan's wife has worked as a public health doctor in the HSE.

In a statement after yesterday's briefing, he said Emer was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer in 2012.

"She has had a number of difficult years and was admitted for palliative care last Saturday," Dr Holohan said.

He said he will now look after his wife and their two children, Clodagh and Ronan.

"I have spoken with the Taoiseach, Minister for Health and they have all kindly offered their support to us," he added.

"A plan has been put in place for others to take responsibility for different aspects of my role."

Dr Ronan Glynn will be acting chief medical officer.

"As a husband and father and doctor, I am conscious we have been through tough times in recent months and many families have been affected by the course of covid, suffering pain and the loss of loved ones," Dr Holohan added.

He said he hoped people would work together and take responsibility for their health while looking after family members, friends and those we care about the most. He thanked everyone for respecting his privacy and asked that it continue.

In a statement, Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he would like to thank Dr Holohan "on behalf of myself and the people of Ireland for helping to guide this country through the Covid-19 emergency".

Gravity

Dr Holohan's "work, experience and briefings helped people to understand the gravity of the situation facing us, while his calmness reassured us that if we followed the guidelines and advice we would overcome these great challenges together.

"Every home in Ireland has come to know Dr Tony Holohan.

"His leadership during the pandemic has given us all confidence that the decisions being made are based on solid public health advice.

"As a country, we owe him and his family a great debt of gratitude."

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly described Dr Holohan as "a rock" who has "provided stability and calm in a time of crisis."

Earlier Dr Holohan said a green list of European countries with low levels of Covid-19, where tourists from Ireland can travel to without restrictions, will be published at the end of next week - but going abroad remains a major concern.

He said the green list, which would be involve quarantine-free travel, is still being finalised.

The advice remains not to go abroad for non-essential travel but people can decide for themselves whether to take a "calculated risk". The list of countries is set to change week on week.

"We see travel-related cases making up an increasing number of cases," Dr Holohan said.

"From a public health point of view, the only responsible thing we can do is to express caution."

A cautious approach informed by evidence and science would allow people to take an informed decision.

Earlier, Prof Philip Nolan, of Maynooth University, said the Covid-19 spread remains low and the situation "stable".

"The reproductive number is now estimated to be closer to 1 than it has been in recent weeks," he said.

"The R number is easily influenced by small changes to the transmission of the virus.

"We have noticed an increase in the number of cases towards the end of last week. It is a trend that NPHET will continue to monitor closely."

Prof Nolan said it appeared the increase was transient.

Upturn

However, there remains concern about the increase in the numbers of people who were abroad who are testing positive.

The numbers have been in the "low teens" in the past week but it marks an upturn when there were very few such cases.

There is also a higher proportion of younger people testing positive among the new cases, Prof Nolan added.

Dr Vida Hamilton, national clinical adviser and group lead of acute operations at the HSE, said: "Due to the good practices of the public our ICUs were not overwhelmed.

"Although they were busy, every patient got the care they deserved.

"Some of us may have witnessed the reality of the front lines in our hospitals on recent television documentaries.

"We should not lose sight of what is at risk and how fragile our systems are in the face of this pandemic.

"Please continue to follow public health advice."